Screenshot 2023 09 13 at 8 03 08 PM

Did you realize that it’s only been about ten months since ChatGPT was released to the public? Seems like a lot longer, right?

I can’t say I was surprised by the reaction to the latest “society threatening” technology, especially from my colleagues in the education community.

While some of the more creative teachers I know and follow began thinking of ways to use these new tools in their practice, most schools and districts opted instead for the sledgehammer approach: ban, block, and penalize.

However, that vociferous pushback against a new, potentially revolutionary technology seemed awfully familiar.

Flash back with me to the late 80’s when Casio released the first inexpensive (relatively) graphing calculator, a device that could fit in a pocket (a big one) and easily replicate many of the mechanical processes taught in high school math classes.

At the time I was teaching in a pretty affluent school so many of the families could afford the $100 price tag. After one winter break, several of my students returned to school showing off their shiny holiday gifts. The following school year, the numbers of devices in the hands of our kids exploded.

As you might expect (or remember), the first reaction from teachers was to ban, block, and penalize. We can’t allow these to be used. That will completely devastate math instruction. Kids using these devices will lose the ability to think for themselves!

Or something like that. The details are a little fuzzy this many years later.

Of course, instructional Armageddon did not happen. We learned how to incorporate the technology into our instruction. The math curriculum was not trashed and today is pretty much the same as it was 35 years ago.


But the problem with tools like the graphing calculators then and ChatGPT now is not ease of use. It’s the reliability of the output.

Too many of my math students simply accepted the results that appeared on their device without questioning whether they had programmed it correctly or used the correct input. They didn’t ask if what they saw on the screen made sense within the context of the problem they were solving.

New learning tools like these allow teachers to propose more complex and realistic problems for their students to tackle. But that requires kids to learn how to evaluate the output. Not only is the result correct, but does it clearly address the problem to be solved.

Over time, graphing calculators evolved into more powerful and portable computational engines. AI systems like ChatGPT (which right now are certainly artificial but hardly intelligent) are only just getting started in their progress.

Now is when we all need to start learning the best ways to make them work for us and our students. But always, always, check the output.

At the top is the Casio fx-7000G, used from the Wikimedia Commons, which sold for around $100 in 1986. Now, you can get free and inexpensive apps for your smartphone that will do everything it could and a whole lot more.

1. I have more rants to come about the way we teach math in K12.